How this artist's Emirati identity influences her illustrations

Alia Al Hammadi, who grew up in Sharjah, talks about her inspirations and how she manages to stay true to her style


Husain Rizvi

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Published: Mon 15 Apr 2024, 5:13 PM

An Emirati illustrator recently joined forces with a Dubai-based restaurant famed for its biryanis. Alia Al Hammadi, a growing personality in the city's art scenes, worked on art that embodied UAE's cultural richness.

Her collaboration with the restaurant Gazebo shows a diverse group of people sharing a meal. The vibrant picture features the restaurant's delights, celebrating unity and inclusivity. In a chat with City Times, she said, "The collaboration was an opportunity to showcase the rich cultural tapestry of the UAE, highlighting how despite our diverse backgrounds, we are united by traditions such as sharing meals during Ramadan. Projects like these allow me to share my love for my homeland and hopefully inspire others to see it through the same lens of warmth and inclusivity."

"I have fond memories of visiting Gazebo as a child, so it was a project that really hit close to home for me," Alia added.

Alia's collaboration with Gazebo
Alia's collaboration with Gazebo

Alia grew up in Sharjah, having pursued her education in the same emirate. As a kid, she used to sit in the corner of her class and doodle on the margins of her schoolbooks whenever the teacher wasn't looking. "I studied English language and translation in college but honestly and weirdly, whenever I got to be creative, especially in those post-graduation projects, I really felt fulfilled," she said.

We further discussed her inspirations and how her identity as an Emirati influences her illustrations. Excerpts from the interview:

What inspires your artwork, particularly when creating pieces that represent the UAE?

Everywhere I look, it's just part of being in my country. Whenever something comes up that's related to it, the ideas just flow. It's because it all comes from a personal place. Being a native, it's easier for me to draw inspiration from my own experiences and memories of the UAE. Everything about it, from the sights to the sounds, carries a certain poetic significance for me. So, it's just natural for me to create art that reflects that. It's incredible, really.

How do you think your identity as an Emirati artist influences your illustrations and collaborations?

My identity as an Emirati artist is deeply intertwined with my illustrations. It's reflected in the memories and experiences that inspire my work. Whether it's the sights, sounds, or people of the UAE, they all find their way into my art in some way. I think that's what resonates with people the most; seeing a piece of my reality in my illustrations. It's what makes the connection so genuine and unique.

Could you walk us through your creative process?

When I'm starting a project, I first try to get into the right head space, really visualise what I want to create. Sometimes it's more structured, and other times it's more free flowing. Personally, I lean towards the latter. I feel like it gives more room for interpretation, both for me as the artist and for the viewer. When I get a client brief, I usually grab onto the first idea that excites me and start sketching. Then, I'll take breaks, come back to it, refine it, until it feels just right. It's usually that initial spark that ends up being the one I go with.

How do you balance staying true to your own style while also incorporating the vision of collaborators?

It's definitely a delicate balance. Sometimes, clients come to me specifically for my style, which is great. I try to stick to my own aesthetic as much as possible while still meeting their needs. I believe that staying true to my own style is what sets me apart in this industry.

What do you hope people take away from your artwork, especially when it represents the UAE?

For me, it's all about warmth and tenderness. I want people to look at my art and feel that sense of welcome and invitation, just like I do when I think about my country. I use bright colours and joyful imagery to evoke that feeling.

Can you tell us about a particularly memorable project or collaboration you've worked on in the past?

A memorable experience in my career has been illustrating colouring books that tell the stories of various people, from artists to architects. It's been a fascinating journey, from learning their story, capturing it visually and inspiring kids with them. It truly does showcase how there are so many different paths to life.

A collection of Alia's artworks
A collection of Alia's artworks

How do you see the role of social media in your journey as an illustrator? How has it influenced your work or connected you with your audience?

Social media has been incredibly effective for me. When I first started sharing my illustrations, I didn't really expect much. I was just doing it for fun, to hone my skills. But people started connecting with my work, and brands started reaching out to collaborate. It was a bit overwhelming at first, but I learned to be consistent and to stay true to myself. Social media has also been a way for me to connect with other artists and enthusiasts, to share ideas and inspiration. I try to keep it real, sharing sketches and behind-the-scenes glimpses of my process. It does feel wonderful to be a part of a community through my art.

What challenges have you faced in your career as an illustrator, and how have you overcome them?

A challenge I faced early on was the exploitation of my work in exchange of exposure. It was an important lesson that taught me to set boundaries and learn to invest in better tools to improve my craft.

Another challenge has been dealing with imitation and use of my work without permission. I've learned not to dwell on it too much and to focus on honing my skills and staying true to myself. It's all part of the journey as an artist.

Are there any specific goals or aspirations you have for your work in the future?

Honestly, I'm just taking it one day at a time. The world is constantly changing, and I'm open to whatever opportunities come my way. I want to keep growing as an artist and never lose sight of why I started doing this in the first place. Even with my busy corporate job, I want to always make time for my art and continue to connect with people through it. Who knows what the future holds, but I'm excited to find out.


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